The other day I found myself thinking about my goals and caught myself saying “I just want to be published.” I immediately stopped what I was doing and scolded myself firmly. Just Wants are dangerous things. They creep up when you’re least expecting them and lure you into a false sense of simplicity. It’s a trap all of us fall into. “I just want (insert want here)”.
See, the thing is, there is no one Just Want (yes, I am personifying it. I picture a Just Want as a small, somewhat fluffy creature with big dough eyes. It looks so adorable you just have to pet it, but then it opens it’s mouth and you drop it on the floor. It’s gaping, impossibly large, maw lined with rows of razor sharp teeth, ready to ensnare you). You may think something like: “I just want five minutes of peace and quiet” or “I just want my car to run smoothly” or even “I just want to help people.” But that’s not true. Not at all. You don’t just want peace and quiet, et. al. You also want the those around you to understand what you’re going through, to be sympathetic to your plight, to make things easier on you. To take it another step further, you also want to be warm, well-fed, comfortable, clothed, the list goes on and on.
I am an insomniac. It’s a mix of staying up late reading under the covers with a flashlight (or light up troll doll after my dad took my flashlights away) and genetics (my dad, his sister, his mom, my brother, we all have a hard time sleeping). It sucks because I love to sleep. When wide awake at three in the morning after hours of tossing and turning, I frequently sigh in frustration, or sometimes through tears if I have to be awake at five-thirty and travel or something, and proclaim “I just want to sleep!” Even that statement is usually followed with a string of disclaimers, like there’s some genie in a bottle somewhere listening, looking for loopholes to slip my wish through. “I mean I want to sleep soon. Like in the next few minutes. And wake up rested. And wake up on time. And not have a bad day because I didn’t fall asleep early enough.” So, I don’t just want to sleep. I want lots of things.
And I don’t just want to be published. I also want to make enough money to support writing full time. And I want people to like my books. And I want to connect with readers. And I want to inspire people. There’s a whole string of “ands” from that one statement. Not to mention that I want all of the comforts I already mentioned (food, water, shelter, etc).
I think one danger of Just Wants is: what happens when we don’t get it? If you trick yourself into thinking that’s the only thing you want in the world, the only thing that matters, it’s a lot more soul crushing when you don’t get it. For a long time I Just Wanted to be a veterinarian. When vet school didn’t work out, my world caved in. I had no other goal. That was it. The one thing I’d wanted since I was four. It was a lot harder to pick up the pieces and figure out what to do next. I’ve always wanted to be an author too; I’ve mentioned before, I believe, that I wanted to write books about being a vet. (I say author because anyone can be a writer, you just have to write. In my mind, authors are published. It’s not exactly an industry definition or anything, but it’s my personal differentiation). But I don’t Just Want to be an author. There are other things I want in life as well (happy, healthy, wise). So my world doesn’t revolve around that one thing. It’s kind of freeing, actually. To know that the world won’t end if I don’t obtain my goal.
Another danger of Just Wants is that we think we’re easy to please. We just want one little thing, right? But that’s exactly what the Just Want wants you to think. It’s just sitting there, looking cute and fluffy, with its Precious Moments eyes, waiting for you to pick it up. We don’t want to admit that there are actually a ton of things we want. We feel guilty (or at least I do) because there are people whose Just Wants include clean water and a safe place to sleep. But pretending doesn’t really do much for us. We should just admit that there are a lot of things we want. It’s okay. For me, going through the list of things I Just Want makes me appreciate the things I have.
Besides, there’s a lot of good that can come out of not getting the things we Just Want. My best story ideas come when I can’t sleep. In light of the season, when people are asking you what you want for Christmas or Hanukkah or whatever you celebrate, think about your list of Just Wants and be honest with yourself (as well as being grateful for the things you already have), and see if it doesn’t free you up a little bit.